LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Keith Thomas, CEO of R.D. Abbott Co. Inc., knows a business doesn't survive for 70 years without doing a lot of things right. He also knows you don't prosper going forward by standing still.
That's where the Cerritos, Calif.-based supplier of rubber polymers and elastomer technologies finds itself today, having just celebrated its 70th anniversary.
"If we don't change and adapt, the market is changing rapidly, and we'll be out of business in 10 years," Thomas said at the recent ACS Rubber Division International Elastomer Conference in Louisville.
Since the company's founding by Robert David Abbott, the firm has strived to build and maintain the best team in the rubber industry by setting the standard for industry engagement and activism. It also has been involved in industry education, with Abbott instrumental in developing the rubber technology curriculum at the University of Southern California.
R.D. Abbott still teaches a similar curriculum at its Cerritos headquarters with a 20-week "Basic Rubber Technology" course offered by the Los Angeles Rubber Group. It also provides private training sessions for customers and suppliers, has an interactive internship program for college students, and has staff that teaches a variety of courses through the Rubber Division.
Thomas said those at the firm have come to the realization that the firm is a bit of an odd duck. "We're a materials science company that's infatuated with just one material: rubber," he said.
Its legacy distribution is one of the three business models it focuses on, joined by offering research and development and testing services for hire, and another business that it is ramping up that the firm will disclose more details about later in 2019.
In its distribution business, it has represented Lord Corp. for 60 years and Hallstar for nearly as long. "It's a very mature business model that you'd be surprised how much we're working to refine that model, to add more value, to drive down costs and lower the total cost of ownership of the products we represent," Thomas said.
The company CEO said he wants that part of the business to be a sort of Amazon for the rubber industry.
"Personally, if it's not on Amazon, I don't buy it," he said. "We want to have a business model that is that compelling, that our customers demand to be able to buy products off of our platform. We're not there yet. It's a constant refinement in our core processes."
As for R.D. Abbott's technical capabilities, the firm said its rubber experts are committed to the advancement of elastomers, and have been involved in many breakthroughs, both historically and in recent years.
"Offering customers with a more tailored customer specific solution is important to us," Thomas said. "There are global players that want to do their own sourcing and be vertically integrated, and yet they still have challenges that need to be met."
He added that the firm's internship program, which reaches across all branches of its business, is an example of R.D. Abbott's passion for the rubber industry. It also is the one small way the company can help with the ongoing industry issue of recruiting younger people. "It's much too large for R.D. Abbott to tackle alone," he said. "How do you eat the elephant? One bite at a time. ... It's been a tremendously rewarding experience."
While 2018 was a tough year in some areas of the rubber industry, particularly some of the market conditions in silicone, Thomas remains optimistic. "We're working through those things," he said. "My conviction is that we're going to continue to evolve, and we're going to continue to offer more and more value to the marketplace."